Managing field margins for biodiversity and carbon sequestration: a Great Britain case study


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Abstract. Field margins are a valuable resource in the farmed landscape, providing numerous environmental benefits. We present a preliminary analysis of the carbon mitigation potential of different field margin management options for Great Britain, calculated using data from long-term experiments and literature estimates. The carbon sequestration potential of the individual options investigated here varies from 0.1 to 2.4% of 1990 UK CO2-C emissions, or 0.7–20% of the Quantified Emission Limitation Reduction Commitment (QELRC). The scenarios investigated covered three possible margin widths and options for the management of margins at each width (viz. grass strips, hedgerows and tree strips). Scenarios involving margin widths of 2, 6 or 20 m would require approximately 2.3, 6.7 or 21.3% of the total arable area of Great Britain, respectively. Scenarios including tree strips offered the greatest potential for carbon sequestration, since large amounts would be accumulated in above-ground biomass in addition to that in soil. We also accounted for the possible impacts of changed land management on trace gas fluxes, which indicated that any scenario involving a change from arable to grass strip, hedgerow or tree strip would significantly reduce N2O emissions, and thus further increase carbon mitigation potential. There would also be considerable potential for including the scenarios investigated here with other strategies for the alternative management of UK arable land to identify optimal combinations. We assumed that it would take 50–100 years for soil carbon to reach a new equilibrium following a land use change. More detailed analyses need to be conducted to include environmental benefits, socioeconomic factors and the full system carbon balance.